Dave Holland, doublebass – Aziza – Dare2

Dave Holland, doublebass – Aziza  [TrackList follows] – Dare2 DR2-009, 68:34 (10/14/16) ****:

(Dave Holland – bass/ Lionel Loueke – guitar/ Chris Potter – saxophones/ Eric Harland – drums)

Dave Holland Quartet keeps the intensity alive.

With legendary Bassist Dave Holland celebrating his 70th birthday this year, we might reasonably expect him to settle down and apply himself to something a little more sedate and reflective. Perhaps, a “Gateway Trio Unplugged does Bob Dylan,” or better yet an orchestral version of “Conference of the Birds with lyrics by Rumi.” But that isn’t Dave; Instead, we get another version of the Dave Holland Band, now stripped down to a quartet, playing some of the most raucous, funky, and spirited jazz of the year. The record under review appears on his own label, which he founded in 2005. His long tenure with ECM, a label on which Dave’s brand of energy jazz seemed to be incongruous, and seems to be over. We might wonder if this signals a new direction in his music. The answer is no. There is no swerving or slowing for Mr. Holland.

Joining the band is Lionel Loueke. Lionel is originally from Benin and arrived in United States (by way of France) to study at Berklee School of Music. He has played with Terence Blanchard, Cassandra Wilson, Wayne Shorter and many others. I have heard him described as an Afro-Jazz crossover. While there is just a touch of this influence on the final number, I don’t think it figures very prominently on this recording. To my ears, he is rooted in funk-jazz with a nod to fusion.  The first track presents the new face of the band in declarative terms. It is little more than a funky hook contributed by the guitarist which stirs up a driving bass and aggressive drumming by Eric Harland. The longish solo by the guitarist has him showcasing his bag of guitar effects. One can imagine him asking the bassist if it is O.K to use all his synth toys. The leader, whose artistic adage (that he got from Sam River’s) is “Play it all; Leave nothing out,” would surely have told him “Use them all, early and often.” And thus we get a quick museum tour of older and newer guitar-synth effects which add pungency to the funk-rock riffs of the agile guitarist.

Long-time associate Chris Potter brings two tunes to the outing. On “Summer 15,” he plays soprano in restrained fashion on an intricate head. For “Blue Sufi,” he turns to tenor and demonstrates his more familiar style, which involves a heated swirl of notes, overelaborate to the point of vertigo. There is real mastery to his playing to be sure, but it is often constrained by a self-consciousness which makes it seem static or uncommunicative. Dave’s bass solo on “Sufi,” offers a reprieve, but the band howls up another storm with the drummer making sure not to “leave anything out.”  There is a lot of rhythmic fun on the extroverted “Finding the Light,” on which Eric Harland wields a melodious drum-stick to Dave’s dancing bass figures. The drummer’s own “Friends” is as amicable as the title, a light sketch probed by the bassist while the guitarist stays in the background. Potter’s solo here is stunning virtuosity with just a touch of scale-running athleticism to remind you who is playing. The final tune is a funky and oddly-metered line to which Loueke adds some African vocals. A long dust-up between guitar and tenor ensues in which it appears the guitar will prevail, owing to its technological enhancements, but Potter is not to be outdone, giving back in kind with some frightful caterwauling. In the end, a dazzling unison brings everything together and the band stops on the dime.

For a couple of decades now, the Dave Holland Band has stood for uncompromisingly complex, rhythmically driven improvisation by a perfectly integrated band. Like Charles Mingus before him, Dave steers the juggernaut from behind and implores his young lions to shout their talent heavenwards. The comparison with Mingus does not hold up, though, when we consider the compositional side of the music. Having taken in the Holland Band on tour in Portland, Oregon some years back, I was struck that the tunes were, by in large, just frameworks for very long solos and furious (but always rigorously tight) group interaction. On this record too, the tunes are not especially memorable and are overwhelmed by the soloists. As for the rhythm section, they follow the dictum, “More is better.”  It makes for a very thickly-textured kind of musical vehemence which might not be for all ears. Fans of the ECM Holland years, who think “Not For Nothing” and “Prime Directive” represent the cutting edge of modern jazz will find this session to be both familiar and thrilling. The addition of the guitarist might recall the very fine “Extensions” (1989) on which a young Kevin Eubanks played brilliantly on excellent tunes by Dave. One thing is certain, these are all very fine musicians in-tune with Holland’s exuberance. I think this CD will find an appreciative audience and perhaps even make some new fans.

TrackList: Aziza Dance; Summer 15; Walkin The Walk; Aquila; Blue Sufi; Finding the Light; Friends; Sleepless Night

—Fritz Balwit

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